Smack in the middle of senior discounts and college tuition

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Later this month, my wife, Lynne, and I will officially become empty nesters, for the most part, as the younger of our two daughters heads off to Johnson & Wales University.

The next few years will be a little challenging as we – like many Americans – pay for some of her college education while simultaneously taking the next steps toward retirement and dealing with the typical expenses that older Americans face.

It’s a bit ironic that we will again be, in essence, part of the so-called “sandwich generation.” We were first members of that goup in our 40s and early 50s, when we were dealing with the failing health of our parents (now long deceased) while also taking the necessary steps to adopt two girls from China, a process that put us on the path to the lifelong commitment that parenthood entails.

Back then, life was always a juggling act as we tried to tend to our work lives and our parents’ needs (we each had one parent die before we adopted our first child), while simultaneously raising two active youngsters who were involved in a lot of activities.

The challenges of being older parents are many, including, in my case, that several of my daughters’ camp counselors, teachers and friends assumed that, with my thick white-grayish beard and hair, I was their grandfather.

But years later, it was all worth it. Our oldest daughter, Arianna, has been on her own for a while. After graduating high school in 2014, she spent four years at Bridgewater State University, in Massachusetts, and now she’s working abroad as a teacher, just finishing up the first of a two-year commitment.

Her sister Alana, five years younger, followed her own path through school, graduating from Tri-County Regional Vocational Technical High School, in Franklin, Massachusetts. She learned culinary skills, worked a co-op job in her field, and played soccer all four years in high school. She’s wasted little time getting into the college mode, finding her two roommates even before high school graduation. At J&W, in Providence, she’ll be studying sports nutrition, as well as playing soccer.

Although all of this certainly qualifies us as soon-to-be empty nesters, we won’t be completely without kids, as our independent-minded Alana has already told her mother that she’ll most likely be bringing laundry home from time to time – instead of tossing coins into the washers and dryers available in her dorm building.

Becoming empty nesters – not counting our feisty, barks-too-much dog, Buddy, and our calm feline, Cooper, – will, of course, make us reflect on our life’s journey (translation: it will make us feel a tad older). But the new designation won’t be without its benefits. It will, for example, allow us the chance to get away for long weekends and vacations without being overly concerned with our kids’ schedules.

Of course, there will still be times when we plan a family vacation, as we’re doing later this month, but it will give Mom and Dad more flexibility to schedule getaways.

So why are we members of the so-called sandwich generation for a second time?  That’s an inevitable consequence of being old enough to qualify for both Medicare and an array of senior discounts while simultaneously putting our second child through college.

The challenge moving forward is how to cover the expenses of being a homeowner while still being responsible for covering some of our daughter’s college expenses and without tapping too heavily into our retirement accounts. (I’ve been basically retired since March of 2017, while my wife continues to work.) 

There will be no easy answers, but worrying about such issues is tempered by the knowledge that we survived being full-fledged sandwich generation members 15-20 years ago, which gives us hope that we should be able to do so again.

We’re optimistic that we’ll be up to the challenge, because the ultimate reward of being empty nesters – being free to travel more frequently – will be well worth whatever issues must be faced. Indeed, the chance to see other places – and to escape the harsh New England winters – will be, we hope, one of the distinct benefits of our newfound status.

Or at least that’s the hope; check back in a couple of years to see whether it all worked out.

LARRY KESSLER (lkessler1@comcast.net) is a freelance writer based in North Attleboro.